His work is of world importance – literally so. Padraig O’Malley is known as “the Peacemaker,” and for years, the John Joseph Moakley Professor of International Peace and Reconciliation at the University of Massachusetts Boston has worked tirelessly to promote conflict resolution in the world’s deadliest locales, which include Iraq, Nigeria, Kosovo and Northern Ireland.
O’Malley draws upon his experiences with addiction, approaching wars and conflict as a form of compulsion. Confronting cultural and historical demons both internal and external – in the form of one’s entrenched enemies -- requires the help of fellow “addicts” of other war-ravaged regions, as well as peace brokers. He believes addiction treatment techniques can work at the negotiation table.
For the past five years, the award-winning, Cambridge-based filmmaker James Demo has accompanied O’Malley to direct and produce “The Peacemaker,” a documentary that, in Demo’s words, “will take viewers into Padraig O’Malley’s world of negotiations and conferences with leaders from war-torn regions. Interviews with O’Malley and key figures in his life paint an intricate portrait of what motivates him to take on the seemingly impossible and show us how one man can truly make a difference.”
With the film on the verge of completion, Demo faces the bane of most documentary filmmakers. Unlike the estimable Ken Burns, for whom corporate funding rolls in, funding a documentary is a difficult venture that requires constant appeals for grants and help from the public for worthwhile projects. A director, writer, and producer, Demo’s recent work includes “First Time Long Time,” a short comedy starring John Savage, Amanda Plummer, and Karen Black. Demo founded Central Square Films in Cambridge in 2009. Now, Demo is seeking the final funding to complete the remarkable journey of Padraig O’Malley.
From his native Dublin to the negotiating tables of seemingly intractable conflicts, O’Malley has made an impact. He landed in war-ravaged Baghdad in 2007 with a plan that countless cynics deemed the equivalent of Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills. O’Malley intended to buy airline tickets for bitter enemies among Iraq’s splintered political and religious factions to travel to Helsinki, Finland, where he would help lead proposed discussions to broker a peace agreement.
With the support of Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari, O’Malley convinced Iraqi leaders to make the trip. What emerged from fractious rounds of meetings was the Helsinki Agreement, the first glimmer of hope that even an uneasy truce might be possible. One of the methods O’Malley employed was to include erstwhile foes from Northern Ireland and South Africa to take part in the Helsinki negotiations.
As Demos has noted, “the basic premise of O’Malley’s work is that cultures in conflict are in the best position to help other cultures in conflict.” O’Malley’s first effort to test the approach was during “The Troubles,” when he persuaded Northern Irish leaders from all sides to fly to South Africa for the “Great Indaba Conference.” The host was none other than Nelson Mandela, who helped the Catholic and Protestant enemies to start talk that many observers later viewed as essential to the Good Friday Agreement a year later.
Demo’s film chronicles the evolution of O’Malley’s work, showing how O’Malley has crafted the Forum for Cities in Transition program, whose goal is to “annually convene ten cities in deep sectarian conflict from around the globe.” To O’Malley, cities such as Mitrovica, in Kosovo, where Serbs and Albanians are terrified to even step into each other’s neighborhoods, can start to address their fears and historic antipathy through tough discussions and negotiations. Among the other troubled cities with whom he has worked are Jerusalem, Haifa (Israel), Beirut (Lebanon), Kaduna (Nigeria), Mostar (Bosnia), Belfast (Ireland), Derry (Ireland), Kirkuk (Iraq) and Nicosia (Cyprus).
As Padraig O’Malley’s quest to bring peace to the globe by bringing troubled cultures to the negotiation table has unfolded, Demo’s camera has accompanied him. “The Peacemaker” promises to be a remarkable chronicle of a visionary who believes that even the most entrenched enemies can find common ground. Calling attention to O’Malley’s work is both important and expensive. It is for that reason that Demo is appealing to the public to ensure that the saga of the “Peacemaker” reaches the widest possible audience.
Demo notes: “We have received funding from prestigious documentary institutions such as the Sundance Institute and the LEF Foundation. The LEF funding helped us finish production and with the Sundance money we entered the post-production phase of the film last December. We have edited the film for four months. By the end of April 30, we will be completely out of money and forced to stop the post-production process indefinitely. We have created a Kickstarter campaign with the specific goal of funding the editing for the film and to begin animated sequences that will tell Padraig O’Malley’s dramatic back-story.”
Anyone who would like to contribute to make certain that the moving and important saga of Padraig O’Malley’s life and work can check out both the film’s trailer and the Kickstarter site at the following link: kickstarter.com/projects/1688693416/the-peacemaker-post-production-fundraiser.